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Stephen Steere Farm

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1825–1830. 56 Capron Rd.

Plain rusticity persists in this house, although it is among the latest examples in Smithfield of the two-and-one-half-story, five-bay formula. Only the simple order of its elevation and the splayed-board lintels for the first-floor windows hint at higher aspirations to “architecture.” Except, of course, for the door. The formula is familiar—pilastered, with a broken and modillioned pediment over a fanlight. The ornamentation of the fan in lead provides the most elaborate embellishment of this feature we have yet seen in Smithfield, and characterizes the delicate elegance favored during the Federal period. It is too elaborate and elegant, perhaps, for what surrounds it, yet it elevated a farmer to a landowner in public estimation and captivated the White Pine investigator who recorded this entrance in a measured drawing. As he indicated, the delicate leaded work in the fan is not likely to have been the original treatment, or to have been done locally. It probably came from the shop of a specialist who combined elements from a catalog of cast lead ornaments and brass ruling in various ways to customize the design. The same was doubtless the case for the sophisticated door frame.

The Steere farmhouse belongs to a group of Smithfield country houses displaying identical door designs (see SM29 and SM35), which were allegedly installed (sometimes into earlier houses) between roughly 1780 and 1825. The nearly identical frames are the most standardized and stable element in the ensemble. They confer class. The ever-changing fanlight treatments are the most volatile element. They give individuality and define the period (or, for the clients who bought them, the “modernity”) of the installation. Did the changes in the fanlights catch the White Pine draftsmen off guard? In their twentieth-century compendium they delineated three of these entrances as though all differed in design, when essentially only the decorative division of the fanlights changed.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


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William H. Jordy et al., "Stephen Steere Farm", [Smithfield, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 256-256.

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